Why Writing Poetry is NOT Like Birthing a Real Baby

The metaphor works. I’ve often used it myself as a sort of crutch device to explain the writer’s life to non-writers. I sometimes refer to my finished poems as my babies.

My poems, which are mostly not confessional in the technical, poetic sense of the term, do have my DNA smeared all over them. Poems are “birthed” in a sense. Read Sylvia Plath. When I read her poems I feel I am a midwife-in-training or sometimes a helpless bystander as she spreads and stuns me with words.

But while I totally “get” the metaphor and contribute to its legitimacy myself, I think it is most helpful to me to remember that writing poetry is in many ways NOT the same experience as actual childbirth and parenting. Poetry is not rocket science either. It’s not the cure for actual cancer, just looming invisible cancers of thought perhaps, crises of belief perhaps. For me, poetry is as physically essential as eating and sleeping, yet I think that many of us who are teachers, plumbers, stock brokers, pastors, salesmen could claim the same enrichment in our lives from pursuing the work we were created to pursue.

Poets aren’t special or closer to the birthing experience than other people are. We remember the smells, the sounds, the lights that were too bright, the faded yellow floral print on the rocker-recliner that our husbands slept on. We might have more aptly named the fear we felt as our own bodies lifted out of themselves and delivered a son or a daughter. But we are as tied to the communal nature of most of our actual life experiences as bakers of cupcakes or sweepers of streets are.

And the work that we do, is more like, well, actual work, than it is a mountaintop threshold of pain or joy. It’s a work that teems with insignificance and the ever-dwindling audience. Insignificance is not the same thing as lack of confidence. Through insignificance I find my true attachments in this life, my place. And the rejection slips are easier to stomach, because, these word-wields on the page are not actually me, nor are they actually my children. In a small way they are, yet in a much vaster way they are not. They are poems. Artifacts of work that I choose to do. They don’t feed people or make them happier (except perhaps momentarily). Knowing this frees me up to write, to work. To exist in relationship with myself in a field of interdependence. To determine when I must hit the DELETE button or start over.

Poets blur lines that most people would prefer to just keep in-tact. Sometimes it is healthy to forego the meta-metaphor and search for the less significant but more impactful grit of accurate perspective. Writers, we are people, too. We must remember to keep ourselves complex, complicated, and diversified. Without writing, I don’t feel that I live a complete life, but without a life, I don’t feel I have much to offer the blank page before me. We can, as poets, be just like everyone else. We can think we should have it all….and passionate kisses…as Mary Chapin Carpenter sang….and fleshy babies…who need more than our words.

Beyond My Control

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4927101421782&set=p.4927101421782&type=1&theater

 

I saw this quote on my Facebook wall while killing time this morning in between bouts of poetry-writing. I don’t agree with this one-hundred percent, because I think there is the tangible and the intangible to life. There are forces beyond our control that sometimes coerce our realities into being, and there simply is nothing we can do about that. It’s like the writing process. If I focus on what I can control and only focus on that–the work ethic, the reading, the self-discipline to get off Facebook and write, the physical exertion I need in order to sit still and work–my writing will improve and perhaps significantly, which is why I am enrolled in am MFA program. I want to focus on and work on the gifts of writing that are in my hands to improve. This doesn’t, however, negate the reality that there are gifts out there which no amount of drive, focus, ambition, and hard work will bring to me. There is a certain fickle quality to everyone’s Muse.

 

I believe in writing and in life, we spend too much time sometimes gargling the happenings of life which we have no control over to the neglect of those aspects of life which we do have control over. Posting this quote and finding some solace in its fact doesn’t mean I believe there is no whimsy to life, no unexpected course, no tragedy that comes out-of-the-blue. It’s just it seems pointless to me to spend too much time fretting about the fairy dust of life. I still believe in it, though.

Ready or Not!

True to form, the pace of my summer has not been conducive to a writing life. Usually, I completely table all writing and spend my time outdoors, mostly driving my son to and from summer tennis practices and tournaments. Normally, I embrace the hiatus from writing, however, in two days I board a plane for Ohio where I will begin Ashland University’s MFA program with a two-week writing residency. I am excited, nervous, and a bit freaked-out by having to pay my first year’s tuition. I feel like I can’t waste that much money. I now must succeed. Someone please define “success” for me.
Today, I unpacked my first box of poetry books and placed them on shelves in a new room in our new home. It felt like my mind was opening and I could breath again, to see my familiar friends–these books. In the next two days, I must select a poem to analyze and present at the residency and I must fill out workshop forms for the poems I have submitted for workshop at the upcoming residency.
Most importantly, tomorrow I have a hair appointment. Nothing saps my confidence like gray roots! By far the biggest surprise to me is the angst I feel over leaving my little grandson for two weeks! I like to pretend I am this independent woman with a poetry career, sports interests, friends, hobbies, etc….that little boy has me completely wrapped around his little finger.
It feels good to write something again, albeit a hastily scribbled blog post. It’s a start. All of life is a start, a box to unpack, a changing child to remember.

Work Was Done

In the tense of President George W.– Work was done around here today. I selected several poems and zapped them to the Cincinnati Review for a poetry contest. “Geography,” “Demise,” “Enlightenment,” “Burning Day,” “After Moving (Re-titled “Oklahoma Territory”), “Whitman’s America,” and “Water.”

 

Editing poems is tedious work!

Messy Means Creative?

I came across a slide show of famous writers and artists and their work spaces. Apart from Picasso whose art studio looked like an episode of “Hoarders,” and a few other famous Messy-Maniacs , I felt validated that most of the creative spaces looked like the hospital wing for the chronically OCD. Many of the writers obviously require cleanliness and absolute order with a minimalist approach to things in order for creativity to flow. I have always been this way. My creative process is random and willy-nilly and all over the place. I start typing a poem usually with no idea what the first line of the poem will even sound like. I have no agenda. I can’t require much of my Muse except the promise to dust, vacuum, put away all items out of place and then serve her.

Because I am so rigid about my need for order, I have often been labeled by friends and family as Khaki Kerri–the boring person with nothing better to do than dishes. I beg to differ that “Good Moms” have messy stoves. My kitchen has to be spotless with all the dishes and surfaces clean or I will not cook. I respect that Picasso and I could not have worked in the same studio,  and I also respect that his artistic abilities far exceed mine so the man can choose not to make his children wear clothes if he wants to….As for my friends and family who can’t find a path from front door to  living room, whose dining tables look like Craft-o-Rama-Bama, you might just be messier, not more creative than some of us who keep our spaces free of clutter.

The bottom line to living an artistic life or just living a life in general is to be who you are created to be and to celebrate that and to spend most of your time with others who will also celebrate that. Part (perhaps all) of never having time for maintenance and margin in one’s life is…let’s call it what it is…. feeding the Glorification of Busy Monster, and that Monster will take over your brain until you are living from caffeine drip to caffeine drip, gaining pounds around your midsection, and hurrying so fast you can hardly take a breath to actually listen to someone who isn’t on the same treadmill. I have spent my years working for that warden, and I have reaped the futility of it. Not only that, I have trained my up my own children to battle this cultural demon. My daughters especially struggle with allowing themselves to rest.

I say this to my kids from time to time (okay…too often) Do what I say, not what I do. Every day should bring you some measure of joy at the end of it. We spend way too much time debating the definition of joy and way too little time asking ourselves if we have it, because if you have it, every day in your life, you don’t have to ask what it is anymore. You just know. Sadly, in today’s culture, it is impossible to find joy and fulfill all your childhood sports’ practice requirements. How many of us are raising our kids on God’s value that abundance is not quantitative or externally measured?

Creativity is a suspended moment. For some, a suspended moment means you don’t see the cobwebs in your corners or the sink piled high with food-scarred dishes. Some of us can’t navigate the suspension with total disregard. Messiness is not a measure of creativity any more than neatness is.

To do list…

I am in one of those dreaded states of paralysis in which I have the time to work but no work is getting itself produced. I feel like President Bush attempting to hold a press conference about a natural disaster. I could blame myself, my lack of discipline, my laziness, but it’s easier to just say this unwelcome state of mind and heart has just come upon me like the weather. I have been here before.

I usually find it helpful to listen to lots of Mumford and Sons and to make a writer’s to-do list. Here is the list (with Credence Clearwater Revival playing in the background….) Readers will have to supply your own imagination for the music as I am keeping this blog simple, like me….

My Writer’s To Do List:

1. Finish and send registration for Summer Residency at Ashland.

2. Complete editing of my “Middle People” essay and determine which lucky journal gets a crack it first. Editing a prose article ranks among my least favorite activities in the whole world. Writing the first draft was fun.

3.Finish reading the kindle poetry of Maurice Manning that I ordered weeks ago and have not started.

4.Finish last month’s bookclub book and start May’s selection so I can actually attend bookclub in May.

5.Put one word in front of the other and write some poetry.

6. Start selection of poems to be work-shopped at summer residency.

Part of the reason the writing is not happening is my life is in flux. We are moving again. I am excited about the move to a better neighborhood and to a completely beautiful and finished Tudor-style house. It’s just some of my poetry books are already in boxes for the move. I am not sure I can write without my pile of poetry books always accessible to me. I also have a massive non-writing to-do list that relates to the move. This too shall pass. I am starting to imagine where my writing spot will be in the new house. I don’t even want to write the non-writing to-do list. It’s massive.

You are dismissed….

http://giuliozambon.blogspot.com/2012/06/dismissive-people-power-and-all-that.html

Sometimes, going about my poetic life, I feel like I am on a badly-written episode of “Big Bang Theory,” where the speakers have seemingly forgotten that the humor-punch in the show is that these characters are anal retentive because they possess a superior intelligence…they aren’t just anal for sake of being anal, and most importantly, anal-ness is not the same thing as intelligence. Without intelligence, anal-retentiveness is just, well, annoying.

This sounds harsh!

The writer of the link posted above would agree with me.  Mired in facts, that’s what we are. Think about this. The “stuff” of Huckleberry Finn was available and accessible to everyone, but only Mark Twain could have written it. When I am in a large group setting, I am always seeking the Mark Twain of the group. Or in a pinch, becoming him. But if that is the case, the episode of Big Bang Theory I am stuck in is a REALLY bad one! I have four siblings and I am not known as the funny one.

I like what the writer of the above-linked blogpost has to say about the difference in true intelligence and the collecting of rote facts within the brain. Our schools should recognize and promote creativity and attempt to challenge those who can make connections and relationships out of facts. Otherwise, knowing who invented the sausage is about as worthless as a southerner’s fishing stories (and far less interesting).

Rote people tend to flock together like sardines in edible form, and they tend to make up their own rules and to become very dismissive of those who think outside their cans. My “rote” acquaintances like to cut me off mid-sentence. If you aren’t going to name drop their favorite theological term within five seconds or assume the inferior position they need to keep their lists in order, then they are not listening to you. I mean, God has a plan, and it’s all about them getting stuck in the airport. But what I think they do not realize is I am obviously even more dismissive of the fact-checkers than they are of me. It’s just they are never going to realize it. We were all, I believe, born to create, to take risks, to live fully, to know God at a level deeper than an acrostic of His attributes.

Sing it with me…You’re so vain…I bet you think this song is about you, don’t you? don’t you? don’t you?